Colorado ski resorts prepare for ski season, introduce social networking to slopes

Skiers and snowboarders who have been eagerly waiting for the Colorado ski season to begin, had their patience rewarded last week when Keystone Resort opened to the public for the first time this year. They’ll soon be joined by Breckenridge, which fires up the lifts tomorrow, followed by Vail and Heavenly, who kick off the season on the 19th, with Beaver Creek finally joining in on the fun on the 24th of the month.

It may still be early November, but the snow has already been flying on the mountains, with several of the resorts receiving in excess of 7″-8″ of snow in the past few days alone. That means that skiers can already expect a good base of powder when the gates open over the next few weeks, and considering these resorts average 300+ inches of snow per year, you can bet that the season ahead will be a good one.

Fantastic lodges and beautiful powder aren’t the only thing these resorts have up their sleeves this year however. They’ve also managed to bring their lift tickets into the 21st century by incorporating an RFID chip right in the passes themselves. That technology opens up a host of new opportunities for visitors in what can only be described as an Epic Mix.

Epic Mix is a unique blend of outdoor fun, social networking, and technology that comes together in an online environment or on a mobile app for the iPhone and Android devices. As you spend the day going up and down the mountain, making great run after great run, the RFID chip is busy keeping track of how far you’ve skied, how many vertical feet you’ve dropped, and so on. It then allows you to share that information online at the Epic Mix website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. You can even earn special Epic Mix achievements for completing certain goals or attending specific events. Those achievements can be shared with friends and family in the form of badges that can be prominently displayed on your Epic Mix or Facebook page. Examples of some of these achievements are the Snow Turkey, which is awarded for visiting a resort on Thanksgiving Day or the Three’s Company badge for skiing more than 3000 vertical feet in a single season.

As of this writing, the Epic Mix mobile apps are not available yet, but the website promises that they’ll arrive “by Christmas.” Android and iPhone users will find plenty to love in these applications, as they’ll not only allow you to access your Epic Mix account while on the go, they’ll also show you exactly where your friends are on the mountain at any given time, and allow you to message one another to set up when and where to meet. The apps will also give you real time weather and snow reports, traffic updates, and information on the conditions of your favorite run.

For more information on what Epic Mix can do, check out the video below and be prepared to have an even more social experience on the slopes in Colorado this season.

[Photo credit: Breckenridge Lodge]

Istanbul transit fares increased

Travelers visiting Istanbul this winter will pay extra to get around on public transportation. The transit authority has just put a fare hike in effect on the trams, metro, bus, and ferry lines, the first in a year and a half.

A single-leg token (jeton) will now cost 1.75 TL (about ($1.25), up from 1.50, but Akbil (smart ticket) carriers will pay 1.65 TL and .85 TL for transfers. Ferries between the Asian and European sides or along the Golden Horn will cost 1.75 TL, using a token or Akbil.

Read on for more info on the Akbil and how to use mass transit to get to Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.An Akbil (smart ticket) is a small electronic button-like device that can be loaded with money at any major transit station or tram stop, and provides discounted transfers within an hour and a half of your first ride. The Akbil can be shared amongst multiple people, though only the discount will only apply to one passenger.Travelers can purchase a new Akbil with a 6 TL refundable deposit at major transit centers, though Taksim Square is the most reliable place to purchase one. Look for the booth that says “Akbil Satış Noktası” (Akbil sales point) rather than newsstands which may only allow recharges). There’s been talk of phasing out the Akbil in favor of the new RFID Istanbulkart but instituting the card into the system has caused delays and the card can’t currently be purchased.

While Istanbul’s transit system is not nearly as extensive or convenient as any many other European cities, most tourists will at least use the handy tram line during their travels, which connects many popular areas from Taksim Square (via an additional transfer from Kabatas on the funicular train) to the Old City sights including the Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar. It is also possible to take public transit to the Ataturk airport if you have time to spare: a tram ride to the end of the line at Zeytinburnu connects with a metro line to the airport and takes a little over an hour (note: you can also transfer at Aksaray but it involves walking a few blocks, difficult with luggage).

A few additional kurus (cents) for a ride may not mean a lot to travelers, but with the dollar down 11 percent in the last 5 months, you’ll want to save your lira where you can.

Stockholm hotel starts cellphone check-in and room unlocking trial

Swedish lock maker Assa Abloy may not be the first to develop a cellphone based hotel room key system, but with their live trial this month, they are the first to actually get a system in place.

Their technology allows hotel guests to check-in to the hotel, and use a special mobile phone to unlock their room. The system relies on a Samsung mobile phone with a built NFC chip, which uses the same kind of technology found in RFID credit cards.

During the trial, select customers of the Clarion Hotel in Stockholm will be given one of the phones, and after four month test period, the results will be evaluated.

The idea of completely keyless entry is interesting – but I’ve also had very good results with ATM style room key dispensers, especially since they can provide a key in under 30 seconds. As with all mobile phones, I’d hate to arrive at night, only to discover the the app has crashed, or that the battery has died. After the jump, you’ll find a video clip showing the system in action.

[Via: Engadget]

Two weeks of embarrassing passport news

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for passport designers. Several things happened that could alter the future of the technology used in our travel documents.

The first bit of bad news came from the UK, where a van was stolen containing 3000 “virgin” passports. These passports were on their way to an RAF base, where they would be flown to consulates all around the world (previously covered here on Gadling)

The passports were made in a high security printing facility owned by 3M, but of course, no amount of security helps against stupidity. When the driver of the van stopped at a store to buy a candy bar, his colleague (who was still in the unlocked van) was ordered to keep his head down while the thieves drove off, stopped in a dark alley, and unloaded all the passports into a waiting car. The passenger of the delivery vehicle has been arrested and released on bail.

The UK passport service said “computer chips embedded in the passports to store personal and biometric data have not been activated. The service says that means the documents, which are still missing, can’t be used as passports.“.

Turns out they couldn’t have been more wrong, which brings us to the next bit of bad news.

RFID (radio frequency identification) chips in passports have been a hugely controversial issue. Ever since the first trials were conducted, security specialists have warned that they are not the holy grail they are said to be. Back in 2006, right after the first chip enabled travel documents rolled off the printing presses, researchers showed how easy it is to read, and write to the chip in these passports. In a more recent experiment, a researcher read the information off one passport, and altered it, rewriting the data to a different chip, but with a new photo; Osama Bin Laden.

When the standards were developed for the RFID chips in travel documents, a system was put in place that could verify the information stored on the passport with a remote database of “public keys”. So far, only 10 of the countries participating in RFID passports have signed up for this new public database, and only 5 are actually using it. Once this system is in place, a scanned passport will be verified against the data it is supposed to contain.

This technology should eventually make it much harder to use a fake or altered passport at an immigration counter, but only in countries that have the systems in place for using RFID. Any other county will still have to rely on the visible data stored in the passport. Since the RFID technology is only intended for immigration purposes, a fake passport can still easily be used for other purposes, like banking or real estate.

In the meantime, there are 3000 UK passports on the market (worth about $3400 each), and millions of passports being printed each month with RFID chips that don’t really protect anyone.

With each vulnerability found in these RFID passports, the designers are pushed back a little closer to their drawing boards, where they will eventually have to develop an even better method of protecting the countries they work for. Of course, in the big picture of things, nothing can stop good old human stupidity.

New American passports can (maybe) trigger bombs

The new American passports are supposed to be state of the art, but there is some danger that lurks within: the RFID chip.

We reported a few months ago about the “radio frequency identification” chips which are embedded within the new passports and loaded with digital information about the passport holder–mainly the same information found on the identification page. The concern with this chip is that it can broadcast this information to the wrong person.

According to an LA Times article by Jane Engle, the government claims the chip can only be read at a distance of 4 inches when the passport is opened. Others, however, claim that this range can be greatly increased with the proper equipment, thus turning American tourists into a walking radio station broadcasting personal information. One expert even claims that the signal can be used to detect an American passing by and set off a bomb, as illustrated by a YouTube video found here (although this is apparently a very improbable scenario).

Scared? You can always disable the chip using a very simple and primitive method described here. But of course, we here at Gadling would never condone such an action.